Passengers -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

MILL VALLEY, Calif. -- Trapped in a movie theater watching "Passengers," a movie about a bickering married couple stuck in traffic, is almost as irritating as experiencing the real thing. More of a two-character study rather than a fully developed scenario, Australian Michael Bond, who wrote and directed, doesn't really open up his story of Aussie transplants to L.A. trying to succeed in the film industry.

They never make it to their dinner with friends and, despite accomplished acting by its attractive lead actors, occasional flashes of insight in the script and polished visuals, the film doesn't arrive either. Audiences for it will be limited as are commercial or art house prospects, though it could find exposure on DVD and cable broadcast.

Tom (a fine Cameron Daddo), a handsome, aspiring screenwriter, is finally getting a foothold in Hollywood with his writing partner, the comparatively affluent Roger (a too briefly seen Bruce Davison). Meanwhile his wife, Melony (Angie Milliken), a struggling actress in her mid-30s, contrary and perverse to the point where we lose sympathy for her, is not so quietly going off the deep end.

Their shaky marriage and Melony's tortured psyche unravel during an arduous conversation in which they battle congested traffic and each other on their way to a Hollywood restaurant. Lazlo Baranyai's rich cinematography and varied camera angles compensate for the confinement dictated by the premise, and Meredith Montano's costumes reflect the cultivated casualness of the well-heeled on their way up.

During a brief stop at Roger's house, Melony has an awkward interaction with his youngish second wife, Nina (Patty Yu) that signals trouble ahead. She accuses Tom of having an affair with Nina, provokes him by recounting true or possibly fictional stories of her own infidelity and bemoans her childlessness.

Milliken gamely wrestles with a two-dimensional role, conveying the depth of Melony's aggrieved state, but the real source of her unhappiness and the underlying reasons for the deterioration of their marriage are unclear as is Tom's culpability. As written, he's cast as an innocent object of the rage and ramblings of an angry, disappointed woman.

A few comments hint at an Australian take on L.A. culture, but Bond doesn't expand on them or make a persuasive case for caring about the meltdown of these self-absorbed characters. Audiences seeking a payoff for the angst and claustrophobia they've endured will be reminded of Jean- Paul Sartre's famous comment, "Hell is other people." If "No Exit" were set in L.A. and played out in a car, this might be what it would sound like.

Venue: Mill Valley Film Festival

Production company: Bondfilms, Camal Prods., Lenz Films.
Distributor: Arsenal Films
Cast: Cameron Daddo, Angie Milliken, Bruce Davison, Patty Yu
Director: Michael Bond
Screenwriter: Michael Bond
Executive producer: Jonathon Stretch
Producer: Michael Bond, Cameron Daddo, J.J. Rogers
Director of photography: Laszlo Baranyai
Music: Gerald Brunskill
Costume designer: Meredith Montano
Editor: Drew Thompson
No rating, 84 minutes